Part of what made Maryland such an exciting and successful team last year were spectacular long touchdown passes to the wide receivers.
This season, Terrapin wide receivers have produced so few big receptions and have played so inconsistently that Coach Bobby Ross may replace both starters, Russell Davis and Greg Hill, this week against Virginia.
"We've got to get more big plays from our wide-outs," Ross said yesterday. In an effort to get those plays, Ross has moved sophomore Eric Holder into Davis' spot at split end and thrown Hill into a three-way competition at wide receiver that will be decided later this week.
"We're planning to start Holder against Virginia," Ross said. "We need to get more consistency. We're not upset at Russell, but we have to be fair and see if Holder gives us the consistency that we're looking for. Russell has been catching the ball fairly well, but he's got to be more specific in running his routes. He's backing into his routes instead of breaking them off."
Davis has caught eight passes for 119 yards, but has no touchdowns. Last year, in the season opener against Penn State, he caught touchdown passes of 50 and 60 yards.
Hill is consistently getting open, and has two touchdown passes among his eight receptions. But he dropped one potential touchdown pass against West Virginia and two passes against Pitt last week.
"It can make you lose your hair," Ross said at his weekly luncheon. "I haven't gotten on him. He's trying, and I don't want him to press. During practice, he's had very few drops; he's made catches of the outstanding variety.
"But he has dropped a few in games, and there's a confidence factor when you go through periods like this. He's not locked into a starting position."
Hill, a junior, is competing with redshirt freshman Sean Sullivan and freshman Keeta Covington.
"It seems like I go through a slump every year and drop two or three passes in a row," said Hill, who caught seven for touchdowns last year. "When I dropped that one at the end zone against West Virginia, I got so mad at myself I let it affect me for too long. I can't do that. Coach Ross told me not to worry, but it's easy to say and tough to do.
"I'm still getting as open as I did last year. But in one case, against Pitt, I took my eye off the ball because there was only one linebacker to beat and I was already thinking about running. I caught two touchdown passes (against West Virginia), but the drops are the thing that I remember; I hate it. It's hard to understand, too, because I've practiced in the rain and didn't drop a pass, then I walk into the game and drop one.
"Being challenged is good because it will make me work harder. I'm trying to fight to get it out of my mind because you can lose total concentration over a big period of the season."
Holder, from Palmer Park, said he was "very surprised" that he would start in place of Davis, a senior.
"Our offense hasn't gotten big plays and we're the big-play people. The team needs us to put points on the board right now."
Quarterback Boomer Esiason, who has returned to the starting lineup after missing the Pitt game with a injured shoulder, said, "We've got to get together on the deep routes this week. We've had three games, and each week we thought it would go. It's necessary this week."
Ross said he will most probably redshirt freshman receiver Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof. Ross said he would have liked to redshirt the entire freshman class to build up the number of quality players in the program.
Len Lynch, a junior offensive guard, will have surgery on a chronically injured shoulder later this week and also will be redshirted.
The number of injuries in the last two weeks is beginning to worry Ross. "Last year, we weren't faced with this dilemma," he said.
Fullback Dave D'Addio's deep thigh bruise improved yesterday and his status for Saturday's game has gone from doubtful to questionable . . . Defensive tackle Peter Koch said he will play despite a sprained ankle, but as Ross noted, "Boomer said he would play last week, too" . . . If Koch, the defensive captain, cannot play, redshirt freshman Bruce Mesner will start, giving the Terrapins what amounts to three rookies on the defensive line.